Speech - The WHO Regional Office for Europe support strategy to support sub-regional collaboration in health in the South-eastern Europe Health Network
Minister of Health of Serbia, Dr Zlatibor Loncar, President of the Network
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia, Mr Ivica Dacic,
Ministers of the South-eastern Europe Health Network Member States,
Secretary-General of the Regional Cooperation Council, Mr Goran Svilanovic,
Excellencies, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,
I am very pleased to welcome you all to this meeting of the ministers of health of the South-eastern Europe Health Network, which was jointly organized with the Minister of Health of Serbia, Dr Loncar. A warm welcome to the ministers and high-level representatives of all 10 Member States!
This meeting is both an important and a timely initiative, building on the outcome of our last gathering, in Skopje a few months ago at the invitation of Minister Todorov.
Today, it is no longer enough to meet at ministerial level every 5 years, as life has accelerated and we face new challenges every day. If the Network is to have the place it deserves, we must meet regularly, ideally, once in every 6-monthly Presidency I would like to take this opportunity to thank Dr Loncar for taking the initiative to organize this meeting, in collaboration with the WHO Regional Office for Europe. I came here accompanied by a strong team, to ensure a truly high-level, worthwhile event for you, which we will repeat regularly.
Today, health issues increasingly occupy a central place in the public policy agenda, globally, in Europe and in SEE. Just look at the progress made in delivering on the MDGs and at the goals and targets of the post-2015 development agenda, where health has its own ambitious goals and targets but is also embedded horizontally into many others. Health 2020 is a true manifestation of the post-2015 development agenda. Look also at the outcome document of the recent G7 meeting, in which health security, antimicrobial resistance and neglected tropical diseases occupy an important place. Not to mention the recent World Health Assembly, where a large number of significant decisions were made that will affect our work in the years to come. The same will apply for the upcoming Regional Committee meeting in Vilnius. A year ago I promised the Regional Committee that I would continue to work for improved health outcomes and to link health to equity and also to sustainable development. This is happening more and more in our Region, and our decision-makers are increasingly obliged to take a wider perspective in their work. Coherent, inter-connected government policies – with a strong intersectoral component – are the way forward. This also applies to the SEEHN and individually to your countries.
Today's world is complex and inter-connected and is also opened up by information technology. People today expect greater choice, higher standards and better health and well-being.
Now, more than ever, health policy and its implementation and progress in public health matters require policy-makers to take a broader international perspective, as no country can solve its problems alone in our inter-connected world. We are all aware that communicable diseases, food-borne infections, antimicrobial resistance and the health effects of pollution and climate change do not observe national borders. Neither do the challenges posed by NCDs or health systems. As you well know, WHO was a co-founder and a long-standing partner of the SEEHN, and we will continue to support the Network enthusiastically. I find this Network very important and also a good model for others, as it brings together a group of like-minded countries around important public health issues and challenges. It allows them to coordinate their work and positions and therefore have a stronger voice and clearer results.
I will now focus on some key initiatives for supporting the Network further. From the beginning, the WHO Regional Office for Europe has had a strong interest in sub-regional collaboration in SEE. This is reflected not just in co-founding the Network and continuing strong political support but also in constant support through health-related activities in various technical fields for over 14 years. These initiatives range from health policy development, as set out in the Banja Luka pledge on communicable diseases, the International Health Regulations, NCDs, antimicrobial resistance, quality of care, mental health, public health strengthening, blood safety, transplantation and others.
A rather broad array, you might say - covering virtually the whole spectrum of health issues that WHO deals with. In pursuing these goals, the Regional Office for Europe fully respects the responsibilities of Member States for the health of their populations. In other words, the goals of our partnership with the Network are to add value, share experience and work together in prioritizing areas in which common action can bring concrete results for the health of the populations of SEE.
Our collaboration is bearing fruit, at both policy and technical levels. To mention just a few initiatives: enhancing community mental health reform, ratification of the WHO FCTC by all SEEHN Member States within a year of its endorsement and enhanced bilateral collaboration.
The challenges to which we all have to respond include demographics, such as the ageing population, the disease burden and increasing health care costs. These were the basis of the global debate on the future development agenda, which has become intrinsically intertwined with the debate on the future of sustainable development. We are talking of the post-2015 agenda, with a new generation of sustainable development goals that offer a means of measuring progress in the economic, social and environmental pillars of sustainability. The strong interlinkage between health and sustainable development has been confirmed. We see this relationship in three ways: health as a contributor to the achievement of sustainability goals; health as a potential beneficiary of sustainable development; and health as a way of measuring progress in all three pillars of the sustainable development policy.
Health 2020 is sustainable development in action. It has shaped negotiations for the sustainable development agenda – at least in Europe – at various regional consultations, and the post-2015 agenda, to be adopted in September this year, will give new impetus to its implementation. The European policy framework on health and well-being, Health 2020, offers a platform and mechanism for bringing health and other sectors into play for better health and well-being in the context of contemporary global, regional, sub-regional and national developments and challenges. We expect important achievements by 2020, and we encourage all Member States of this Network to work with us to implement Health 2020 and link health to development. SEE Member States help a great deal in achieving such results.
The SEEHN today is an established international organization, which should find its well-deserved place among international governmental public health organizations in Europe.
I look forward to such a development, and WHO will continue and strengthen its support, both politically and technically, to this end. We are especially looking forward to stabilizing the Network structures and governance so as to support its future endeavours for the benefit of the SEE populations. This will enable both WHO and the Network to design better-structured long-term programmes for collaboration and to find the right balance between national and sub-regional programmes for collaboration.
WHO will design its technical support for common challenges in the Network countries. Just as an example, the Network Member States have recorded decreasing incidences of TB and proportionate decreases in political attention and allocation of financial resources, although the Global Fund supports many SEE countries in this regard. To prevent possible losses of the achievements made in TB control, challenged by migration, the new "End TB" strategy calls on countries to be proactive. We will invest in strengthening the Network's Regional Health Development Centre for Communicable Diseases in order to design TB governance models that meet Network countries needs and provide good channels of communication and links with supranational networks such as the TB laboratory initiative and the antimicrobial resistance laboratory network.
NCDs represent one of the main health challenges in SEE. One of the major opportunities for meeting this challenge is full implementation of the WHO FCTC after ratification by all Network Member States. Thus, we will strengthen the capacity of the Network regional health development centres on NCDs to support ratification.
We will take a similar approach in other fields of technical work traditionally led by the Network's regional health development centres, with the goal of building their capacity towards establishing them as WHO collaborative centres.
In following up some of the major achievements in areas not covered by the existing Network centres, we will support strengthening of technical capacity at sub-regional level for better integration of national and regional activities and improving national results, where appropriate, by establishing sub-regional platforms for action or establishing new centres to better reflect the Network governance structure. Good examples of such actions are cross-sectoral policies for health equity and development, the European Environment and Health Process, and taking forward the EVIPNet initiative.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The support strategy I have outlined is very ambitious, as the challenges we face are serious and complex. Today's European population considers health and well-being as priorities, and they should also be priorities for government programmes, with coherent actions across government sectors.
Your strong political commitment and leadership will be needed so that, in working together, we will contribute jointly to the development of health and well-being in SEE and all of Europe.